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Local Communities and Eucalyptus - An Experience in India

Vinayakrao Patil

Chairman of Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Co-operative Society
& Agro-Forestry Federation, Apex Body of Tree Growers' Co-operatives
Maharashtra State, India


The paper relates the success of a pioneer co-operative of tree farmers with production of Eucalyptus wood as a viable economic and environmental alternative to other agricultural crops under seasonal drought conditions. Efficient production methods, effective use of the limited water available and a wide market end use acceptance and economic returns are cited in its favour. The formation of local community co-operatives offering technical and marketing expertise, and down stream processing facilities which promote "on farm" returns to the producer are important activities. The credible marketing system developed is stated as a major factor promoting the operation. It is now increasingly realised that co-operative agro-forestry can be used as an effective medium to fight the battle against environmental degradation as well as for alleviation of poverty in rural areas by increasing farm income. Demonstration agro-forestry plantings are noted as important in extending the concept. The success of well managed Eucalyptus commodity wood production has attracted government and commercial support to the co-operative. The paper considers and rebuts some of the popular media and quasi scientific misrepresentations of commodity Eucalyptus crops in this dry environment. Objectives and lessons learned from the pioneer co-operative are included.

Key words: Eucalyptus, eucalypts, India, drought, tree farming, tree growers, agro-forestry, short rotations, wood farming, environment degradation, co-operatives, marketing, processing, community benefits, tree breeding,


The idea of the formation of the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Co-operative Society was conceived by this author in 1983. It was mooted as a pioneering co-operative agro-forestry venture, the first of its kind in Maharashtra as well as in India. The Co-operative Society was primarily organised to cater to the needs of drought affected farmers, who were less privileged in terms of availability of irrigation facility for growing conventional crops. Most of these farmers are dependent upon rain fed agriculture, uncertain availability of labour and uncertain market for seasonal agricultural crops, and they needed an alternative, which could provide them with assured economic returns over a short period. The idea was to advocate the use of a part of their agricultural holding for growing Eucalyptus as opposed to diversion of the entire holding from agriculture to tree farming.

With the objective of providing financial relief to the farmers of rain fed agriculture in the event of failure of the agricultural crop, cultivation of fast growing Eucalyptus was initiated as an agro-forestry crop. Eucalyptus was chosen after an extensive survey as it could enable the farmers to harvest the wood on a short rotation of 5 to 6 years. Eucalyptus has the added advantage of being a good coppicing tree ensuring 4 to 5 cuttings without replanting. It is also considered an efficient utilizer of limited water resources for production of maximum biomass, and thus ideally suited for rain fed agriculture. Furthermore, Eucalyptus has an assured marked backed up by the pulp and paper industry. It is also in great demand for many other purposes like posts, poles, firewood and charcoal, and for making particle board etc. These factors weighed heavily for its selection as an agro-forestry crop and consequent acceptance by the farmers of this region.

The Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Co-operative Society was formed and officially registered in accordance with the provisions of the Maharashtra State Co-operative Act on 20th June 1983. The chief aim of this society was to promote the cultivation of Eucalyptus along scientific lines as an alternative to conventional crops and also to organise the marketing of the produce on a co-operative basis to ensure maximum returns to the farmers. To achieve this goal the society even aims at setting up suitable processing units based on raw material generated by this agro-forestry venture.

Any farmer wishing to undertake Eucalyptus farming as an alternative cropping pattern in Nashik District could become a member of the society on payment of Rs. 1,000/- per acre (0.4 hectare) as his share. This rule was relaxed for poor farmers, who found it beyond their capacity to pay this amount. For their convenience, the amount of the share was reduced to Rs. 50/- per acre (0.4 hectare) as part payment of his share, enabling him to secure membership of the Society. Necessary provisions were made in bye-laws to accommodate poor farmers as members of the Co-operative Society in this manner. Technical guidance regarding cultivation of Eucalyptus was imparted to the farmers and supply of planting material was organised by the Society for its members.

The chief aims and objectives of the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Co-operative Society are to:

2 413 farmers from Nashik District have joined the Society and Eucalyptus trees have been planted on 10 289 acres (4 216 ha) of land. In all, nearly 15 million Eucalyptus trees have been planted. Supply of planting material to the farmers was organised by the Society in collaboration with the State Forest Department and the Social Forestry Department.

Harvesting of Eucalyptus crop by the Society

Harvesting of 5 to 7 year old mature Eucalyptus trees has been organised by this co-operative society for the last four years. The farmers are advised not to harvest the trees if they are found not fit for harvesting. However, the final decision to harvest the trees is left to the farmers so as to respect their wishes and individual needs and aspirations.

Once the decision for harvesting of the crop is arrived at, the date of commencement of felling on the farm is communicated to the farmer. A specially trained team of farm workers from the society goes to the field and completes the harvesting operation. The record of poles and their number and size etc. is prepared in the farmer's field.

Eucalyptus poles are then transported to the sales depot set by the Society. Here, the poles are categorised according to a length and girth classification and then arranged in separate lots for each length and girth class.

The poles thus categorised are then sold at a fixed price indicated for each length and girth class by the society. The entire harvesting operations is done on a job basis by trained workers. The agro-forestry co-operative is thus generating considerate employment opportunities in rural areas.

Successful marketing of agro-forestry produce by the Society

The Society has evolved an efficient system of marketing the agro-forestry produce of its members over the past four years starting from 1988-89. By evolving a systematic procedure both for harvesting and marketing of the agro-forestry produce, the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Society has succeeded in providing the managerial capability and in establishing its credibility amongst the farmers by winning their confidence on the basis of meticulous record keeping at every stage. By specifying the system of retail sale according to each length and girth class, the Society has succeeded in obtaining an average price of around Rs. 2000/- per tonne as against the price of Rs. 700/- per tonne, which the farmer could have obtained by auction sale or by an individual, private sale. The farmers thus get remunerative prices for their agro-forestry produce.The consumers, who mostly come from poorer segments of society, also benefit substantially, as they can get the material of their choice, according to their actual requirements at the fixed retail rates, which are considerably lower than the retail sale rates fixed by timber traders. The timber traders are gradually accepting the reduced margins of profits compared to the hefty profits they previously made at the cost of the farmers.

Eucalyptus poles have a variety of uses in rural as well as urban areas. Horticulturists and grape growers in Nashik District use smaller poles for giving support to their tender plants. Poor villagers use these poles for building huts.

Many farmers have also started using Eucalyptus poles for making agricultural implements. In the cities, the builders find in these poles a better and cheaper alternative to costly wood for scaffolding. Considering the overwhelming demand from the buyers, the prices of Eucalyptus poles have increased time and again, which has helped the farmers get higher economic benefits.

The Society has successfully proved in actual practice that by evolving a sound, rational and credible marketing system, which could truly be called "The Sellers' Market", the producers of agro-forestry products have been able to get remunerative prices without jeopardising the interest of the poor consumers. This is, indeed, the hallmark of an efficient marketing system, which the farmers as well as the consumers have started to appreciate.


The success story of the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Society went round all over the State and farmers in other districts of Maharashtra came forward to Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Co-operative Society for guidance. Twenty five similar tree growers' co-operative societies have now been formed and many more are in the process of formation. The encouraging response of the farmers of Maharashtra prompted this author to conceive the formation of a state level federation of Agro-forestry Co-operatives in Maharashtra as Founder Chairman of the apex body of the Tree Growers' Co-operatives - the first of its kind in India.

The Agro-forestry Federation aims to:


It is now increasingly being realised that co-operative agro-forestry can be used as an effective medium to fight the battle against environmental degradation as well as for alleviation of poverty in rural areas by increasing farm income. By meeting the needs of the people for small timber and domestic energy locally, pressure on national reserve forests will be relieved considerably.

The role of farmer co-operatives has become more vital, and this author feels that the current decade is the "decade of the farmers". The Central as well as the State Governments are now taking concrete measures to promote and strengthen the co-operatives of farmers, as these play a key role in raising the economic and social standard of the poor farmers. Co-operative agro-forestry is an environmentally friendly and productive programme which has "substance, speed and sustainability", the three pronged test mooted by the policy planners for funding a rural development programme.

Diversification to other agro-forestry tree crops

The farmer members of the agro-forestry co-operatives who started planting Eucalyptus are now not only planting Eucalyptus but also adopting other species like teak (Tectona grandis), bamboo (Dendrocalamus strictus), agave (Agave sislana), kadam (Anthocephalus kadamba) and jatropha (Jatropha curcas) etc. The choice of species is based on agroclimatic considerations, irrigation facilities, type of soil, fast rate of growth and ability to produce a variety of products for ready marketability. Eucalyptus farming initiated by the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Society has provided a successful model for agro-forestry in India.

Cooperation from financial institutions

The success of the co-operative agro-forestry venture initiated at Nashik has revived the confidence of the financial institutions including NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development), as they have realised that, with proper co-operative approach and organised and efficient marketing of the produce, the economic viability of agro-forestry projects can be improved.

Cooperation from Central and State Governments

The successful organisation of the co-operative agro-forestry venture at Nashik has attracted the attention and appreciation of both the Government of Maharashtra State as well as the Central Government's National Wastelands Development Board. The Agro-Forestry Federation has now started receiving financial incentives as well as trained personnel to take care of the technology extension and research related to the agro-forestry programme.

The Government of Maharashtra has relaxed the transit rules to facilitate transport of agro-forestry produce derived from species like Eucalyptus, Casuarina equisitifolia, Prosopis juliflora and Leucaena leucocephala etc.

Similarly, the Government of Maharashtra has also relaxed the Sales Tax Rules by exempting the agro-forestry produce from the purview of States Sales Tax. The National Wastelands Development Board of the Government of India (Ministry of Wastelands Development) has come forward to finance the Agro-Forestry Federation in taking up research and technology extension programme.


Attitude of farmers and their willingness to conform to co-operative discipline.

The co-operative formula has been working successfully in Maharashtra for a long time particularly in the field of agriculture and the co-operative culture is well established in the farmers' psyche. It cannot succeed where people are individualistic in their approach.

Credible leadership. The farmers' co-operatives have been promoted in Maharashtra by experienced and capable leaders with a socialistic bent of mind within a democratic framework. The leadership fulfils the managerial and entrepreneurial needs of the co-operative organisation, even though the individual members of the co-operatives - being poor and illiterate - lack the managerial capability. The co-operatives can take care of such inadequacies.

Credible and efficient marketing system. The economic viability of the co-operative agro-forestry venture depends upon an efficient and credible marketing system which can ensure remunerative prices to the grower members.

Proper choice of species. The choice of species is governed by the ability to grow well on a particular site, fast rate of growth, low gestation period, and above all ready marketability of the produce preferably backed up by an industry link up. The choice of species must be left to the farmers and their co-operatives. In this context Eucalyptus spp. still have great potential along with other species like teak and bamboo.

Pragmatic and prompt institutional support. A pragmatic and liberal approach by the financial institutions as regards choice of species and spacing with an eye on economic viability, can give a boost to co-operative agro-forestry. The financial institutions are also generally more willing to support private farmers through the co-operatives.

Support from State Government. Agro-forestry is an effective means to enhance the area under tree growth and thus relieve pressure on Government reserved forests, by meeting the demand for firewood, poles and timber from agro-forestry crops raised on private lands. Incentives in the form of simplified procedures for harvesting and relaxing of forest rules applicable to harvesting and transport of forestry produce can give a boost to agro-forestry co-operatives. The Government of Maharashtra has been very responsive and prompt in removing the bottlenecks notified by the co-operatives. Such responses cannot be expected by individual farmers.

Fiscal incentives for technology extension. The Govt. of India's National Wastelands Development Board has initiated a novel scheme of providing incentives to agro-forestry co-operatives for the technology extension programme. As it is truly said "seeing is believing", demonstration farms practicing agro-forestry go a long way in convincing and motivating the farmers to accept agro-forestry as an alternative land use system and in establishing the economic viability of such a system. The farmers, being illiterate, are slow to change. But, once they see the things happen, they pick up the concept very fast.

Supply of genetically superior planting material to ensure uniform growth. An interesting and indeed very significant lesson which has been learned from the experience of growing Eucalyptus by the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Society is that, by using superior quality planting stocks, which will ensure a uniform girth and height growth, the income from agro-forestry produce can easily be enhanced three to four times compared to that obtained by using planting stocks of seed origin. The Agro-forestry Federation has entered this high tech field by undertaking field trials of tissue culture plants of elite origin with the help of National Chemical Laboratory, Pune. The Federation will be collaborating with similar agencies to ensure a supply of genetically superior planting stocks of Eucalyptus to the grower members. This will give a further boost to co-operative agro-forestry and ensure its success in the ecological rehabilitation of barren wastelands and thus usher in an era of all round socio-economic development on a self sustainable basis.


The common myths are:

Myth no. 1: Eucalyptus plantations compete for water and other nutrients with crops in its vicinity and deprives them of healthy growth.

The experience gathered from growing Eucalyptus at our demonstration farm at Kundewadi in Nashik District, as well as in fields belonging to other farmer members, shows that there is no such adverse competition or adverse influence on horticulture crops grown in adjoining fields viz. grapes, pomegranates, Ziziphus mauritiana and agricultural crops like wheat. Eucalyptus use the nutrients from lower horizons whereas agricultural crops, such as wheat utilise nutrients from upper horizons.

Myth no. 2: Eucalyptus spp. need plenty of water, and drain away subsoil water and causes water scarcity.

Our experience shows that Eucalyptus spp. are the most efficient utilisers of water for maximum biomass production in arid areas. These observations are also corroborated by scientific research carried out at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, where a comparative study of water consumption and biomass produced shows minimum water consumption by Eucalyptus trees coupled with maximum production of biomass as indicated in Table 1 on the following page.

Table 1 A comparative study of water consumption and biomass production


Water consumed (litres/yr)

Biomass produced

Total biomass produced per litre of water

Water consumed per g of biomass






Acacia auriculiformis








Albizzia lebbek








Dalbergia sissoo








Eucalyptus hybrid








Pongamia pinnata








Syzigium cuminii








Non-forested area








Source: Forest research Institute, Dehradun, India

Myth no. 3: Eucalyptus trees do not permit any undergrowth and cause degradation of land.

Our experience shows that under Eucalyptus trees, normal crops grow well for the first three years and some grasses grow permanently. Even after removing the Eucalyptus crop totally, on lands used for other agricultural crops, growth of these crops is seen as normal.

Myth no. 4: Eucalyptus trees do not support wildlife.

Birds prefer to build nests in Eucalyptus trees and find them safe from predators because of the safe height from ground level.

Myth no. 5: Eucalyptus timber is not valuable and consequently the market is uncertain.

Eucalyptus is the principle "Timber Tree" of Australia, its natural home. Its main use is for paper pulp and it has a ready market as poles, for hardboard and particle board, charcoal and firewood

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